Cover image for The apocalypse in African-American fiction
The apocalypse in African-American fiction
Montgomery, Maxine Lavon, 1959-
Publication Information:
Gainesville : University Press of Florida, [1996]

Physical Description:
x, 115 pages ; 23 cm
Reading Level:
1370 Lexile.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS374.A65 M66 1996 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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"Creative, original, and vigorous. . . . The selected pieces represent a breadth of works by novelists considered touchstones in African-American literature."--Emma Waters Dawson, Florida A&M University

"An interesting twist in interpretation of a long-standing literary trope--an apocalypse--carried beyond a traditional Eurocentric analysis to an Afrocentric analysis grounded in black culture, including its own language, its own style, its own trickster tales, and its own legitimate folk heroes."--Clenora Hudson-Weems, University of Missouri, Columbia

The image of the end of the world--James Baldwin's "the fire next time"--permeates African-American fiction in ways that are distinctive and original. In this exploration of the relationship between biblical apocalyptics and black fiction, Maxine Montgomery argues that American writers see apocalyptic events in an immediate and secular sense, as a tenable response to racial oppression.

This work analyzes the characters, plots, and themes of seven novels that rely on the apocalyptic trope: The Marrow of Tradition by Charles Chesnutt, Native Son by Richard Wright, Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin, The System of Dante's Hell by LeRoi Jones, Sula by Toni Morrison, and The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor.

Each is structured around a catastrophe of some sort--either actualized or anticipated--that is to bring about a new beginning. In each, the dominant tone is ironic, and Montgomery directs close attention to the ways the novelists attempt to reverse or subvert the notion of the end of the world in mainstream America. Together, she says, the novels indicate the richness and variety of the apocalypse as an idiom, and "they shed light on the ongoing and often elusive quest for equality in a peculiarly American promised land."

Montgomery also traces a vision of the apocalypse from the oral beginnings of its expression in folk art to its presence in the oratory of Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X, among others.

Maxine Lavon Montgomery is assistant professor of English at Florida State University. She is the author of articles published in African-American Review, College Language Association Journal, and The Literary Griot.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

This title ably validates the thesis that African American fiction uses an apocalyptic tradition to create a distinctive variant literary mode. Montgomery selects seven novels--Chesnutt's The Marrow of Tradition, Wright's Native Son, Ellison's Invisible Man, Baldwin's Go Tell It on the Mountain, Baraka's The System of Dante's Hell, Morrison's Sula, and Naylor's The Women of Brewster Place--to demonstrate the apocalyptic vision, which concerns an oppressive sociopolitical system and hope for the establishment of a new order of racial justice. These novels are all constructed around catastrophes, revealing the link of the apocalyptic and the African American vernacular tradition. The apocalyptic tradition has been documented in Bernard Bell's classic The Afro-American Novel and Its Tradition (CH, May'88); however, Montgomery emphasizes the significance of the apocalyptic motif through concentrated thematic critical analysis. For example, she uses Sula and Women of Brewster Place as examples of works that are structured around an assortment of catastrophes ranging from individual to community death. A valuable critical and research tool for undergraduates, graduate students, and scholars. B. Taylor-Thompson Texas Southern University

Table of Contents

Prefacep. ix
Introductionp. 1
Chapter 1 Charles Chesnutt, the Marrow of Traditionp. 15
Chapter 2 Richard Wright, Native Sonp. 28
Chapter 3 Ralph Ellison, Invisible Manp. 40
Chapter 4 James Baldwin, Go Tell It on the Mountainp. 52
Chapter 5 Leroi Jones [imamu Amiri Baraka] The System of Dante's Hellp. 64
Chapter 6 Toni Morrison, Sulap. 74
Chapter 7 Gloria Naylor, the Women of Brewster Placep. 88
Notesp. 103
Bibliographyp. 107
Indexp. 111